Jazz Tap Legend Buster Brown Centennial Celebration
As we approach the great Savoy dancer Frankie Manning’s 99th Birthday this weekend on May 26th, I was pleasantly reminded about the recent centennial celebration for another superb dancer – Buster Brown! Frankie was the King of Lindy Hop and Buster was the Majestic Monarch of Jazz Tap, both true transcendent American art forms in their own right. I was honored and flattered to be invited to speak at the Buster Brown Centennial Celebration here in New York City produced by Buster protege Michela Marion Lehrman, who runs the wildly weekly Tap Jam Session at Small’s Jazz Club. Michela was first introduced to me by Buster himself when she was a young up and coming teenage talent in the tap world. “Michela is going places, you watch out for her!,” exclaimed Buster and Buster always spoke the truth. She organized a true heartfelt weekend of loving tribute to Buster.
My connection to all these festivities is my humble involvement of starting “Buster Brown’s Crazy Tap Jam” at Swing46 Jazz & Supper Club back in 1997. As the club’s musical director at that time, we were looking to fill an early Sunday evening time slot with something different, but still well-rooted in swing tradition. Having met Dr. Buster Brown (him with an honorary Ph.D from Oklahoma City University) and the privilege of musically accompanying him on several occasions, his old skool character and personality was the ONLY choice to host and develop the Swing46 Tap Jam. He handled the challenge with gusto and the event became world renown and had a long and healthy run on Sunday evenings at Swing46. Celebrity jazz tappers were regularly in attendance (Gregory Hines, Savion Glover, Stumpy Cromer, Jimmy Slyde, Sandman Sims, The Nicholas Brothers,among the many) and Buster was always the gracious host – with his welcoming arms to tap enthusiasts and music lovers of ALL levels!
It seemed appropriate that the grand finale was back at SWING46 last night with the reunion of “Buster Brown’s Crazy Tap Jam.” The tap electricity was static in the club’s atmosphere and the Buster love was evident in every corner of the room. Buster has been gone for over a decade, but his spirit and memories are as strong as they ever were – maybe even stronger. As much as I always feel honored to have a personal and professional relationship with the great dance icon Frankie Manning, it occurs to me that being part of Buster Brown’s elite inner circle is an equal distinction that I shall always treasure as a badge of honor.
Big Band swing music makes you happy. Lindy Hop makes you happy. And so does Jazz Tap! Happy 100th Birthday, Sir Dr. Buster Brown!